The problem of Universals

A little lost and disoriented, a bit fatigued, or perhaps grieved, the man was walking down Industry Road.

Leather sandals on his feet, he was dressed in green and beige. His clothes looked ancient, or perhaps simply antiquated.

He trails his left foot slightly.

It seems that the grimace which crosses his face at regular intervals - always the same grimace - is in some ways connected to the foot trailing.

He is thinking.

There is no one, on Industry Road, at two incandescent o'clock of an August afternoon. No mentally sane being would face the harsh climate, when air conditioning is so comfortable and easily available.

The man is, to all effect, the only one walking on the left hand side pavement of the road. This means he will not encounter anybody, on the journey.

And this is a pity. Because nobody will notice that there is something strange, very strange indeed, about the man.

If someone were to look at him closely, she would notice this man is not sweaty.

Not even a single drop beads his (arid, you will allow me) forehead.

Why is he not sweaty? The reader might ask. How the hell can he not be sweaty at two incandescent o'clock of an August afternoon, immersed in black tarmac?

Perhaps something bad has happened? You might ask.

Well, it looks like it has.

While the man, very concentrated on a problem about Middle Age Universals which he cannot solve, walks fatigued, and perhaps grieved, along the left hand pavement of Industry Road, his reserves of water have run out.

It does not occur to the poor man (unaware we might add, knowing the terrible thermoregulatory tragedy he is approaching, inescapably), it does not occur to him to wipe his forehead.

He does not feel moist, nor dry. Nor he feels very very hot. He is thinking about the Tree of Universals.

So all at once the man, having reached the threshold temperature, catches fire.

At the beginning his hair.

It sizzles and sparkles and then burns.

Then his eyebrows, his chest hair.

His clothes are blackening, little by little.

He, unabashed, scowls and ruminates on his thought.

And walks, unaware.

His hands are two torches, his feet fire brands, he is a human flame.

He cannot see the fire, nor does he feel it. Phalaris' Bull would envy this man from the third millennium.


Those bastards just will not leave me in peace.

I managed to kick them all out of my studio, and for now it seems the door can hold. But I am not sure of how long it is going to last for.

I had to fight with my teeth and nails. Fucking little figurines, I had no idea they could be so hard nosed. And so resistant, also!

I tried using everything I had against them.

Obviously you cannot squish them flat, with your shoe or with your hand. Because they are made of paper. And paper is already flat.

But scissors do not work very well either, because you multiply them every time you try to cut them in two.

You really have to snip them and break them into pieces, to neutralize them.

And they are so fucking sharp, that they easily make cuts in unprotected skin. And those that can fly are especially deadly, because they are super fast and they can reach you everywhere. Even in your ears.

God knows why they got so angry, and so suddenly.

At the beginning they were only a couple, the most complicated ones, that started shaking a little bit in their places.

Maybe they would bend just a little, or make a little jump every now and then, but nothing more.

I played it down, after the first shock. I make so many origami, some times even ten in one day. And if sometimes a couple of them behave a bit strangely it is not that strange.

You also need to consider that they are all very complicated origami. They all have hidden mechanisms that make them move, in expert hands. This is what makes them so special.

The chaffinch can flap his wings, the horse can gallop and the shark can open his jaws.

In all honesty, I am the best origami master in town.

But this morning they were all kind of restless, and that was very weird. I was worried, so I decided to close them into the broom closet.

I did not lock the door, thinking that would not have been necessary. That was my mistake.

They came back, enraged.


He was walking slowly along the corridor of the hotel. His hands stuck forward. Turn right, ten steps, turn left, another five steps, STOP!

I can hear small steps somewhere near here. Quick, small steps. Like those of somebody in a hurry, maybe a lady with a tight skirt. I think she might be coming this way.

I lose concentration and make a couple of awkward steps backwards. I stumble, of course, and I fall on the floor. Again.

My butt hurts like hell.

I feel like a real idiot.

The lady is getting closer, I am sure she is coming this way. She must be at the next corner of the corridor.

She passes by me, and keeps going, without even slowing down. I do not think she has seen me. Here, in the middle of the corridor, sitting down.

I feel like a child who has lost his parents, who has sat down and refuses even to think of moving. There is nowhere to go.

I guess that also a thief could find himself in a situation similar to mine. Hiding from the police, in an abandoned building. Pitch black inside, no idea of where to go. It feels kind of desperate.

But I am not a thief, nor am I a child, nor do I need to hide. This is silly.

My name is Luigi, I am fourteen years old and I study at the languages high school in Padova.

I am not great at English, but I think French is a wonderful language, and I am great at it. I would like to work as a translator, when I am an adult.

Also, I love tennis. My dream has always been to play at Wimbledon. Who knows. I always thought this was possible, even easy, until a few years ago.

Now, in fact, it makes me feel like a complete idiot.

Especially now.

I am stuck in this labyrinth of corridors, without any idea of where the exit is. Or the entrance. I would give an arm and a leg for an emergency exit right now.

At three o'clock I started exploring the seventh floor of this huge hotel. Now I am completely lost.

This is ridiculous, especially if I think about how enthusiastic I was when I first got inside this place.

In fact, I have absolutely no idea of how much time has gone by. Inside here, minutes expand, shorten, multiply. I have no control over them.

It is all Ugo's fault, God damn it! Had I not listened to him, right now I would be out running, on the concrete of a tennis court.

But here I am, stuck and barely able to move.

Ugo is my tennis coach. He is the one who convinced me to do this stupid thing. Incredibly stupid.

He said it was going to help me develop my hearing, my touch and something he called proprioception. Bullshit.

All it has helped me develop so far is a growing urge to give him a kick in the ass, as soon as I can get hold of him.

But there is a problem. I could not see him even if he were here in front of me, right now. At the moment, I cannot see anything. Nothing. Pitch black.

This was Ugo's brilliant idea. With your eyes shut, you cannot trust your sight, not even for the simplest action. You cannot move. You never know what is going to happen if you move.

You cannot know what there is in front of your foot, just a couple of centimetres beyond your shoe. There could be a wall, or even worse, a step. Or maybe nothing.

You cannot know if something is coming towards you, very fast, or very slow. Maybe somebody is staring at you, right now. You don't know.

Trust me, it is a mess. A bloody mess. You should not think I actually saw the short lady with the tiny skirt, a little while ago. I only heard some noises.

toc tOc oC ToC Toc TOC…

and she passed. Next to me, I am almost certain. Nevertheless, I am quite sure she did not even see me, because the Toc toC did not stop or slow down.

At the beginning I thought this was a fun game.

But then I fell, the first time. I was walking and then I stumbled on something and went down, like a bowling pin.

Then I hit a wall, with my cheek. I have no idea of how it got past my hand and arm defense.

Imagine the frustration of wandering in this labyrinth of corridors, for hours. With no idea of where the exit is. Complete silence.

First you are uncomfortable. You fall a couple of times, you are confused. A little bit of anguish. Which becomes slight panic in the stomach. You realize you have lost all sense of the space around you.

You are left with silence, and a lot of time.

Finally you hear something. A person, who is walking nearby you, somewhere. Getting closer.

Heels, a woman. Rapid; she must be in a hurry, or maybe she is wearing a tiny skirt. Or she is not very tall.

As she approaches I try and walk back, I do not know why. I guess I was scared. And I stumble and I fall. Again. She passes by, without even noticing me, she must have been really in a hurry.

I start understanding, however, what Ugo meant. In the darkness, you need to concentrate to understand what happens out there. Out of your body.

Smells become a big thing, for example. I can smell the dusty carpet in the corridors, and my own smell. The smell of my hands, which is slightly different.

Also, the silence is not complete. My shoes make a deaf, soft sound on the carpet.

Ugo told me that when we have our eyes open, we forget about everything else. We do not see what is around us, but only what is in front of us.

He said when we play tennis we need to be conscious of everything that is around us, second by second.

Not only our opponent, on the other side of the court, and the fluorescent yellow ball.

But also our legs, while we prepare to receive the ball; and our wrist, when we hit the ball. The wind, when it changes direction. The hold of our shoes on the ground.

The public that is watching. The sounds of the public, and the referee.

Nothing can take us by surprise, otherwise we lose focus. We all know that Tennis does not forgive those who get distracted.

An annoying thought starts making its way into my mind. Is this a thought? Nor really, more of a feeling.

It comes from my body, somewhere in my body.

And it is not pleasant, at all.


I need to pee.

And how am I going to find a toilet, now?

I have no idea of where the entrance, or the exit are. Not to mention a toilet.

There needs to be a toilet on this floor.

But how am I going to find it in this state?

If only I could take off this blind fold.

It is useless. Ugo assured me I was not going to be able to remove it by myself, no matter how hard I tried. It was part of the exercise.

I was meant to be able to find the exit alone, blindfolded. Shit.

I did not consider the toilet problem.

Perhaps I can focus on something else, and forget about my bladder.

Easy to say. But how can I, in complete silence and darkness? Your feelings, as Ugo rightly said, are amplified, when you cannot see. Maybe I can stand up.

No. I am peeing myself.

Proprioception. Maybe this is what he meant. The ability to feel your limbs, to know where they are and what they are doing. Even if you cannot see them.

He said this is the reason you can place a spoon in your mouth, even with your eyes shut. He even made me try this, to convince me it was not so hard an exercise.

What an idiot.

And now what do I do? Think of something else. I want to play at Wimbledon. My dad says that he is sure I will make it.

But everybody laughed when I said this at school. I am not sure I understand why. I do not want to talk about it anymore. I feel ridiculous.

This is all a pile of crap. I will never play at Wimbledon. It is all my coach's fault. Ugo. Damn him. He is waiting for me, outside, at the moment. I need to find my way out.

I will never make it. Shit. I will never make it to Wimbledon

I will not even make it to the toilet.

The room of heart attacks

It had been a good year for the Bilacci family. A baby had been born, they had bought a new and beautiful car, and also a beautiful dog.

The happy family had gathered around the dining table. Guglielmo was sleeping at one side, Paolina had not finished talking with Guglielmina, and Galeazzo was playing with the children.

Two new toys for the children had just arrived, and the kids were bursting with excitement. They had run in the living room early in the morning and had not stopped for one second to play with them.

They had been eating for the whole afternoon. They had a lot of delicious dishes: cured meats for starter, pasta al forno, roast turkey and three different kinds of dessert. It was Christmas!

At one point, Guglielmo, who seemed to be sleeping peacefully, had a heart attack.

But it was not a normal heart attack. Guglielmo used to have one pretty much every day, usually after having eaten.

He started moving uncomfortably on the chair, and shaking his head a little.

Nobody else around the table had realized that Guglielmo was having a very bad time.

The almond cake lay half eaten on the plate. His hands crossed on the chest, confusedly. One leg twisted under the chair, the other unnaturally extended.

In the house of the Bilacci family a very tragic scene was taking shape.

Guglielmo in fact had a heart attack pretty much every day, and some times he even managed to have two in the same day. However, he had never had a heart attack in front of other people.

This was because he did not have a very healthy relationship with his heart attacks. He was very ashamed of them. He carefully avoided having heart attacks in the presence of other people, even his own family members.

Usually, after lunch he would leave and go to his studio. He remained there at least an hour, with the door shut. When he came out, he always pretended nothing had happened. He simply started with the afternoon businesses.

The children had nicknamed the studio “The room of heart attacks”. They never dared to enter it. It was a prohibited and scary place.

This time, perhaps because it was Christmas, Guglielmo forgot to go to his studio after lunch. Or perhaps he fell asleep too quickly, before finishing his meal.

This was already strange. But even more strange was the fact that nobody in the room noticed anything. Nobody realized that Guglielmo had fallen asleep. But then Guglielmo screamed.


Everyone jumped up, looked at him, and turned pale. He was having a heart attack!

It was a hurly burly. No one knew what to do. Someone proposed to make him lie down on the couch. Another suggested to take him to the room of heart attacks. Somebody else said he should be put directly into bed.

When the heart attack seemed to be taking a turn for the worse, Guglielmina had an idea: to go and look in the room of heart attacks. She hoped she could find something to help her grampa in this horrible moment.

The little one was very scared of the room of heart attacks. Nevertheless, she collected her courage and turn the handle. She entered, and the door closed her in, suddenly.